I recently read Jeff Dunn’s quasi-celebration of Anne Rice’s renunciation of Christianity. For those who may not know, Anne Rice, the famous vampire novelist-turned-Roman Catholic, has now given up on the church, though not, she claims, on Christ. In her own words:
For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else. . . .
As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminst. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanist. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.
Let me offer you my own interpretation of Ms. Rice’s words:
Lord, I thank you that I am not like other religious people–bigoted, homophobic simpletons–like the Christians that I used to go to church with. I believe in evolution. I am progressive in my views on gender and homosexuality. (cf. Luke 18:10-12)
Jeff Dunn, one of the successors of the late Michael Spencer (the “Internet Monk”), thinks that Rice’s decision to leave the church is “probably a good thing.” He wants us to be unmistakably clear that Rice has not abandoned Jesus by abandoning the church. After all, Dunn writes, “For some, the greatest obstacle to an intimate relationship with Jesus is the Church.”
To which I would respond: For some, the greatest obstacle to an intimate relationship with Jesus is the unwillingness to obey his command to love one’s brothers and sisters in the church. The whole “Love Jesus, hate the church” narrative is so old and cliche that I am surprised to see Satan still employing it. And yet, it keeps coming back again and again.
I am not making excuses for the church’s faults. I have criticized modern evangelicalism for its shallowness, its doctrinal compromise, its poor imitations of pop culture, its obsession with numbers, etc. But I criticize as an insider. I’m not sitting up on a high horse looking down on all those unenlightened fundamentalists, threatening at any moment to withdraw from their ranks because I am too pure and holy to be mixed up with them. I am not arrogantly assuming that me ‘n Jesus will be just fine without all those religious right nutballs getting in our way. I lament the faults of the church as one who belongs, and always will belong, right there alongside people who don’t have it all together, just like I don’t.
Looking across the landscape of evangelicalism and not seeing Jesus there, Dunn wrote this in his commentary:
We have been saying all of this for a long time. Michael wrote his famous The Coming Collapse of Evangelicalism posts in January, 2009. He had written much of the same thoughts for years before. Culture wars and political affiliations had taken over the pulpits of so many churches, it was as if Jesus had retired and moved to an island in the South Pacific.
I too lament the culture wars’ eclipse of the gospel in many pulpits. But if you want to know where Jesus is, I say he is right there in the middle of those misguided congregations, loving and caring for the sheep for whom he died. And instead of thanking God that she is not like them, Anne Rice might find herself closer to Jesus than ever before if she would just make an effort to love Christians the way he does.